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What a Logo Is and Is Not

The Chancellor and Provost's Request

On July 7, 2008, the Chancellor and Provost directed all campus units to:

  • Phase out the use of campus unit logos
  • Use only the campus logos
  • Refer to campus units with text only, and
  • Use a comprehensive visual identity.

The Difference Between a Logo and a Design Element

What a Logo Is and Does

With thanks to Paul Rand:

  • A logo serves as visual shorthand for an organization, product or service.
  • A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it means is more important that what it looks like.
  • A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.

A logo is an icon, symbol, or brand mark. It is only by association with an organization, a service, or a product that a logo takes on meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes.The role of the logo is to point, to designate—in as simple a manner as possible.

How Most Logos are Made

Logos are usually made by modifying a typeface to stylize the text so that it becomes a wordmark, which is a unique typeface used to symbolize the name of an organization, product, or service. The wordmark is usually associated with a graphic to form a visual unit. See the examples below.

What a Design Element Is and Does

A design element is a space, shape, form, mass, line, texture, pattern, light, or color that compose the basic vocabulary of visual designs.

Design elements are used with design principles, which include scale, proportion, perspective, balance, rhythm, emphasis, contrast, variety and unity, to create the broader structural aspects of the composition. Design elements and principles create, mood, style, and message and are also used to create visual identities.

Examples of Design Elements

Read more about visual identities and see how design elements are used to create a visual identity.

Typeface Guidelines

Any significant graphic treatment will quickly turn a typeface into a logo (specifically, a wordmark), which isn't in the spirit of what the Chancellor and Provost have directed the campus to do. More info. However, the difference between a typeface and a logo can be subtle. When in doubt, keep it simple.

Campus units should use any standard typeface, generally in one font (roman, bold, italic, semibold, etc.). Avoid blackletter, ornamental, and display typefaces. Other than initial caps, it is best to avoid mixing upper and lower case and small caps with standard caps, as the result is often a wordmark. It's a good rule of thumb to avoid using combinations of super or sub-script, emboss and engrave, underlining, or strikethrough, because without careful use these also quickly will turn a typeface into a logo.

The colors of the typeface are up to the unit; choose colors that fits the unit's visual identity (a common look applied to all communications materials). If the unit isn't using a visual identity, they are encouraged to develop one.



Logo showing correct use of all elements the same color

A. This is not a logo because the graphic and the text are separated by enough space that they don't form a visual unit and the typeface used for the text "Public Affairs" has not been modified to make it a word mark. Note that more space between the I Mark and the name of the unit is strongly preferred. Think of the I Mark or campus logo and the text of the name of the campus unit as two separate and distinct design elements.

One-color version of logo in red showing all elements the same color

B. This is a logo because the text, although it is in a standard typeface, has been closely associated with the I Mark to form a visual unit. It also is a logo because it is serves as visual shorthand for an organization.

Logo showing bold color palette

C. This is also not a logo because there is no graphic and the typeface used for the text has not been stylized to create a wordmark.

One-color version of logo in red showing all elements the same color

D. This is a logo. While the I mark has been separated from the text by the minimal buffer zone, the text has been modified to create a wordmark, among other reasons. This is essentially an old campus unit logo with the I Mark simply moved to the left. Avoid this construct and similar constructs.